The Des Plaines Police Department is making a renewed effort to address the presence of gangs in the city. Police Chief William Kushner told aldermen he received feedback from concerned residents, including one citizen preceding the city council meeting, about what appeared to be a recent increase in gang-related activity at the meeting on Monday. Kushner said groups of young men and women hanging around parks and gang-related graffiti were brought to his attention.
“I have expressed to him we are taking this very seriously; we are increasing police patrols throughout the city, and we are going to take his concerns, as well as everyone else’s concerns, to heart,” Kushner said. “We are going to start taking more diligent enforcement action throughout town.”
Police conducted an “outdoor rollcall” in the Apache Park area on Oct. 31 during which 12 to 15 officers parked their squad cars in the vicinity and walked the neighborhood as a show of force to gang members.
Mayor Martin Moylan, Fifth Ward Aldermen James Brookman and Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Walsten thanked Kushner for his response to residents’ concerns.
Brookman said he attended a meeting in Kushner’s office with residents to discuss their concerns, and the police chief took action immediately.
“I thought [the outdoor rollcall] was very effective and I was glad to see his response,” Brookman said.
During the outdoor rollcall a police helicopter flew overhead, occasionally shining its spotlight on the ground, which prompted some residents to contact Walsten. Walsten said some citizens were a little upset, but, by far, more people were happy and impressed with the police department’s response.
“I’ve got numerous calls from people very happy that we’re having a more proactive concentration on this gang problem,” Walsten said. “Once it gets away from you it’s hard to get back. You got to get on it in the beginning so it doesn’t grow, and many people are very happy to see that chief.”
Kushner said the helicopter, which is jointly operated by the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, was purchased a couple years ago with homeland security funds.
“We’re very fortunate that I’ve got a direct contact with CPD for the helicopter as it’s available, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we use it several more times in the future,” Kushner said.
Law enforcement officials, including Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, gathered for a public meeting about the increase in gang presence in the area at Maine Township Hall on Oct. 17.
Two recent laws have given more bite to prosecutors, Alvarez said.
A 2009 law requires prison time for gang members caught on the street with a loaded gun. They are no longer eligible for parole.
“The cases we charge, the offenders are pleading guilty,” Alvarez said. “They’re not even going to trial. We’re quite impressed by the numbers.”
Another law, effective last June, is the Street Gang RICO Law (Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations), which allows county prosecutors to go after street gangs in way similar to how federal prosecutors go after organized crime.